The GOP’s great American story has reached its final chapter – and will leave the Democratic Party to split into conservative and progressive factions to fill the two-party void
Like it or not, U.S. politics has always trended toward a two-party system – this, in spite of George Washington’s dire warning in his Farewell Address that political factions “perpetrated the most horrid enormities.”
Perhaps our attraction to this “us-versus-them” model stems from a sort of anthropological tribalism – the kind that pits hunters versus gatherers, Yankees versus Red Sox, Coke versus Pepsi, “Tastes great!” versus “Less filling!” But whatever the reason, be it primality or convenience, our country has stubbornly clung to political duopoly since nearly its inception, and it’s not going anywhere.
Back in the mid-19th century, the Whigs and the Democrats ruled American politics – but a disastrous 1852 election for the Whig Party ushered in the emergence of the Republican Party, whose formation drew not only many anti-slavery Democrats to shift allegiance, but also many Whigs, effectively killing the party.
Some historians cite the Whigs’ demise as an ominous foreshadowing of a similar fate for the Republican Party, while others posit that the current discord in the GOP does not rise to the level of that in the Whig Party – specifically, that the infighting was rooted in deep philosophical differences over the emotional issue of slavery.
But to those in the second camp, I would counter that in the case of today’s Republican Party, it is not a matter of the magnitude of ideological differences – it is a matter of having no ideology left.
The GOP’s traditional model in fiscal conservatism and small government has been steadily losing public support for decades. Herbert Hoover may have been among the first to see the proverbial writing on the wall as he pivoted his 1928 campaign rhetoric from economics to the virtues of the American home and family – perhaps betting that, just seven months later, angry voters would reject the notion of being held financially responsible for the excesses of the rich that spurned the Great Depression. President Ronald Reagan once again firmly planted his Star-Spangled Banner in “Christian values” – conceivably in anticipation of the party faithful souring on the now-thoroughly discredited “trickle-down economics” theory.
In both Hoover and Reagan, we saw a party scrambling for self-preservation by shifting its electoral target from the fiscally conservative to the socially conservative. So, this strategy was not the cause of the Republican Party’s irrelevance, but, rather, a concerted effort to stave off irrelevance.
But these two dogmas are not only thoroughly incompatible – they are a busted beacon atop a structure whose shattered foundation can no longer stand.
There is no doubt that Donald Trump’s toxic candidacy has renewed GOP rally cries to “get back to its roots.” But to what end? Senator Ted Cruz’s stunning refusal to endorse his party’s nominee at the RNC convention seemed to double down on a return to the social warfare model of the Tea Party, while many “traditional” Republicans have called for a restoration of the party’s small-government mold – but the data suggests that an increasingly large swath of their constituencies are soundly rejecting both ideologies, with a historically low percentage of people self-identifying as Republicans.
And that leaves two ineffective, utterly conflicting, dwindling blocs that not only cannot co-exist, but lack the numbers to exist independently in a duopolistic system.
Conversely, the Democratic Party, which has had many incarnations since its debut in 1828, has proven nimble and resilient in the face of changing demographics and economics, and adaptability to societal progress – the very kind of pliancy that has not only kept in relative step with the American people, but has kept pace with the economic and social modernity of other advanced nations, steadily putting distance between ourselves and ISIS-style feudal systems.
To be sure, the modern-day Democrats have had skirmishes of their own over the future of progressivism versus conservatism within the party – but that has only served to bolster its “big-tent” bona fides.
So where does the Republican Party go from here? It will cease to exist. It will be gone, done, a footnote (albeit a long one) in our country’s history.
Now, unlike the disunity that gave rise to a brand-new party in 1852, our nation’s longtime Democrat-Republican dominance makes a whole-cloth creation of a new contender seem unlikely. So, the Democratic Party will splinter. Two new major parties will arise from the GOP’s collapse, both extensions of our current Democratic Party – with its centrist wing poised to absorb the remaining Republican refugees.
So, I give you your two new political parties: the Democratic Progressive Party and the Democratic Conservative Party (or, DPP and DCP, respectively).
Go ahead and take this and shove it in your time capsule, to be opened in forty years. Preferably on a spoken-word cassingle in the trunk of an Oldsmobile, alongside a scrunchie.